I’m joyful. At least I’m not you (I think).

December 18, 2006

If you’ve been reading Sheep Days, you will know that I’ve been depressed recently.  (I’m glad to report that, like a fever, my depression broke a few days ago.)  It’s hard to keep depression from spilling into my work, no matter how joyful that work is supposed to be.  A recent victim of my depression was the sermon I preached last Sunday.  Boy, was it gloomy!

The gist of the whole decrepit broodfest was that, despite the sorrow, anguish, malaise, anger, disillusionment, etc. we feel when we face daily life, we actually are supposed to be in a state of peaceful expectation for the Lord who will bring us joy.  I quoted from the existentialist theologian Paul Tillich (fun for me but boring for everyone else), I made few if any illustrations (ditto), and the sermon was too long.  What should have been a sermon that witnessed to some sort of gospel ended up, in my assessment at least, being a reflection of my recent bout of joylessness.  I tried to convince myself via the sermon that joy is more powerful than sorrow, and that waiting for the Lord to come and rectify the world is a perfectly faithful and hopeful thing to do.  Like I said, my depression has broken, so I may have convinced myself, but I sincerely doubt I convinced anyone in the congregation.

Well, I already felt crummy about the sermon.  Then we got to the time of intercessory prayer, which at Guadalupe often takes many minutes and is the true catharsis of the service.  My front-row lady, the one who always asks her questions during the service rather than wait for later, the one whom I love for this and more, says:  “You were talking about sadness in your sermon, and I was thinking that it’s true.  Whenever I watch CNN in the morning, there are problems and violence all over the world.”   And then, in the next breath, she says, “But you’re right, this does make me feel joyful because at least we’re here and not going through what those people are going through.”  Oh!  A hammer to my heart!  How cruel a bad sermon can be!  She was feeling some emotion masquerading as joy because she was not suffering the way others in the world are.  And she felt that this was what I was sanctioning, what I was proferring as gospel.  Of course, I had no intention of saying that Advent joy is in anyway related to feeling some sort of relief because someone else is worse off than we are.

Maybe a less ruinous interpretation of her comments would be that she really does feel joy and thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given her, and these blessings are best understood and appreciated in a context of global suffering.  My front-row lady has hardly lived a life of ease and leisure.  Guadalupe is no Beverly Hills; it is no gated community where the ugly problems of others are forced to remain outside.   A few minutes later, in the very same time of intercessory prayer, she made a heartfelt petition for the family of a bride in India who had died when she fell off a roof days before her wedding proceedings–a news item that had not yet come to me.

So, in the balance, we have a poor sermon, a misinterpretation of the sermon (maybe), and a loving petition for a stranger who had suffered greatly.  Come, Lord Jesus, and quickly, because all this is too mysterious for us.

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One Response to “I’m joyful. At least I’m not you (I think).”

  1. adan Says:

    We gotta love those front-row ladies huh! And they are so honest and pure. I can picture it. I once was preaching and said something about a comment made by the governor. He said he was proud he spent more money on dog food than prisoners and that they deserved to be on chain gangs in the AZ heat. I was being critical at how unhumane that was. The front-row lady said in the middle of the sermon “if you did the crime you gotta pay the time….” or something like that. Inside I was like “damn…..I can’t believe she just said that.” I tried to recover with something about we doing the crime and Jesus paying the time. That comment was all I had……I still remember that.


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